Sex Panic and the Punitive State (book)

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Sex Panic and the Punitive State, by Roger Lancaster.

Paperback, 328 pages
ISBN: 9780520262065
March 2011

Cover image:

Publisher's description

One evening, while watching the news, Roger N. Lancaster was startled by a report that a friend, a gay male school teacher, had been arrested for a sexually based crime. The resulting hysteria threatened to ruin the life of an innocent man. In this passionate and provocative book, Lancaster blends astute analysis, robust polemic, ethnography, and personal narrative to delve into the complicated relationship between sexuality and punishment in our society. Drawing on classical social science, critical legal studies, and queer theory, he tracks the rise of a modern suburban culture of fear and develops new insights into the punitive logic that has put down deep roots in everyday American life.



Acknowledgments 10
Introduction: Fear Eats the Soul 12
1. Panic: A Guide to the Uses of Fear 34
2. Innocents at Home: How Sex Panics Reshaped American Culture
3. To Catch a Predator: New Monsters, Imagined Risks,and the Erosion of Legal Norms 85
4. The Magical Power of the Accusation: How I Became a Sex Criminal and Other True Stories 116
5. Zero Tolerance: Crime and Punishment in the Punitive State 153
6. Innocents Abroad: Taboo and Terror in the Global War 179
7. Constructing Victimization: How Americans Learned to Love Trauma 193
8. The Victimology Trap: Capitalism, Liberalism, and Grievance 226
Conclusion: Whither the Punitive State? 239
Appendix 1: Race, Incarceration, and Notification 259 (247)
Appendix 2: Notes on Method264 (252)
Notes 269 (257)
Index 307 (295)

About the author


Roger Lancaster is an anthropologist and the current director of the Cultural Studies PhD program at George Mason University near Fairfax, Virginia.

Lancaster's expertise is in gay/lesbian studies, gender/sexuality, culture and political economy, critical science studies, Latin America, and the United States.

Lancaster is a fellow in the American Anthropological Association. From 2004 to 2006, he served as the AAA's media liaison on kinship, the family, and marriage, often fielding questions on same-sex marriage from a wide range of major media organizations.

Reviews of the book

From Amazon:

“Casts a thought-provoking perspective.” —Salon
“A convincing argument.” —The Gay & Lesbian Review

Sex Panic is smart, witty, and political. The critique of state responses to sex offense is desperately needed in a policy debate that celebrates ever harsher punishment.”—Contexts

“This book provides a . . . window on the use of sex panics and fear-mongering by the state to increase its control over private behavior.” — J.A. Myers Gay & Lesbian Review/Worldwide

"Lancaster's approach is fresh, critical and engaging. Many scholars have examined America's 'carceral state',' but few so successfully combine personal narrative and passion with sober assessment. This is a landmark book—a dismaying, angry, but powerful analysis of America's justice system." — Michael Sherry, Northwestern University

Sex Panic and the Punitive State is a passionate, wide-ranging analysis of a culture of American fear that takes shape as moral panic and a socially permeating knee-jerk vindictiveness—not just against the criminal but against anyone (therefore everyone) who could be cast as a potential perpetrator. Its focus on sex and crime is centrally on the male sexual predator, especially the pedophile figure: but its richly archived and narrated examples reach from 19th century victimology to the present, from slavery to terrorism, and their legitimation of the preemptive moral strike. A manifesto against the contemporary paranoid style and its hold on the law, media and you, this book is an important contribution to LGBTQ studies and to American studies in general.” — Lauren Berlant, Department of English, University of Chicago

"Sex Panic is gripping and provocative. Lancaster effectively weaves historical and ethnographic accounts along with his own experiences to illuminate the dangerous tilt in America's legal system toward a presumption of guilt. This is an important book for anyone interested in how crime and justice are perceived in society." — Jonathan Simon, Berkeley Law, Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice

“A profound meditation on sex panics in the modern period, coupled with a biting polemic against the role of the punitive state in American culture. This is a must read for everyone concerned with the state of human rights, sexuality, and political economy. You may not agree with it all, but it will rattle your brain.” —Gilbert Herdt, founder, Department of Sexuality Studies, San Francisco State University

"From the moral panics about child abuse to the war on terror, Roger Lancaster brilliantly explores the fears and anxieties of the United States in recent decades, showing how they continuously participate in the shaping of the nation. His vivid depiction of the paranoid style and bellicose rhetoric in politics gives remarkable clues to comprehend contemporary punitive governance." — Didier Fassin, James Wolfensohn Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University

"Sex Panic & the Punitive State is a sensationally smart integration of the ever-expanding regime of sex-offender surveillance and punishment with all those vexing phenomena you knew were related but couldn't figure out how: victim worship; parental paranoia; the racialization of crime; neoliberalism; the 'war on terror'—and more. Lancaster spares neither right nor left, feminist nor religious conservative; he privileges neither cultural nor economic theories. Meticulously historicized, complexly thought-out, and elegantly written, this exegesis of sexuality and the punitive state will long be vital to academics, policymakers, and activists alike." — Judith Levine, author of Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex

The text is now in genuine "text format" and may be easily read (the size of the PDF is about 1.6 megabytes).

Parts of the book are excellent and easy to digest, while other parts are somewhat impenetrable. Overall it has a strong socialistic slant. A dictionary may come in handy while reading it. Lots of good background on the problems that we face today. Essential reading, especially for the "intellectuals" among us.

See also

External links

  • Extensive description and review from the publisher:
  • At Google books:
  • Download the book:
  • Source of the most of the above compiled information: